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The Art of Netsuke Carving 

/ ih 





Japanese lreasures 

The Art of Netsuke Carving 
in the Toledo Museum of Art 

Carolyn M. Putney 

I [RSI I nil ION 

2000 I Ik- Toledo Museum ol \it 
All Rights Reserved. 

1 xcepi toi legitimate excerpts customary in review or scholarly publica- 
tions, no p.irt ol this hook may he reproduced by any means without the 
express written permission ot the publisher. 

All the objects tenured in this book are in the collection ot the Toledo 
Museum ot Art. Black-and-white photographs, color transparencies, color 
slides, and digitized images are available. 

ISBN 0-9.^1 "2-08-4 

Printed in the United States ot America. All rights reserved under 
International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. 

I he loledo Museum ot Art 

2-t-n Monroi Street 

P.O.Box 1013 

Toledo. Ohio 43697-1013 

Telephone (419) 255-8000 


F.mail publications^' 

Project Supervisor: Sandra E. Knudsen 

Toledo Museum Photographs: Tim Thayer, Oak Park, Michigan 

Designer: Rochelle R. Slosser 

Composition: Adobe Garamond. Futura 

Printed on Gloss Text by Superior Printing, Waren, Ohio 

Front Cover: Reclining rabbit in a kimono, signed by Masanao ot Kyoto, 
1950.1~1 (cat. no. 8). 

Title Page: Warrior and helmet, unsigned, 2000. (cat. no. 34). 

Page 4: Reverse ot manju with reishi, including the signature of 
Kokusai, 1948.1 18 (cat. no. 43). 

Page 6: Kunisada Kochoro (1786-1864), "Takano Tama River at 
Kinokuni Province and famous Kabuki Actor, Kinokuniya Tossho," 
detail. From the series Six Famous Kabuki Actors and Six Famous Tama 
Rivers, 1835. Woodblock print, h. 15 '/, in. (38.7 cm). Gift of Richard R. 
Silverman. 1991.82. 

Page 12: Hokusai Katsushika (1760-1849), "Gentleman at Rest," detail. 
From Yehon Tzuzoku Sangoku-shi, vol. 7. Woodblock print, h. 8 s /»in. 
Gift of Noble Kreider, 1 944. 1 0. 

Page 16: Manju with pine bark and leaves, 1948.124 (cat. no. 37). 

Page 20: Kappa ryusa, 1948.126 (cat. no. 16). 

Page 46: Detail of Raiden, 1948.140 (cat. no. 15). 

/\cl<tio\\'lotlc>mo nh 

The enthusiasm, dedication, and vision of three people 
inspired this exhibition and catalogue: Kurt T. Luckner, 
former director David W. Steadman, and Richard R. 
Silverman. Kurt and Richard took great care to make seeing 
the entire collection of netsuke possible for our visitors, 
while David was responsible for planting the idea of 
creating this show. 

I would like to thank all of the marvelous donors who 
contributed to making the exhibition a reality, including 
Mrs. Edward A. Kern, Mr. and Mrs. Robert L. Huebner, 
Dr. Samuel Karr, Dorothy Zurheide, Richard R. Silverman 
and Robert F. Phillips. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the 
Museum Director, Roger M. Berkowitz, who eased many 
burdens in facilitating and supporting the creation of both 
this book and the exhibition. I also thank the many 
members of the incredible staff of The Toledo Museum of 
Art who have made possible the preparation and execution 
of both book and exhibition. In particular, I acknowledge 
the following Museum personnel: Todd Ahrens, Jeff Boyer, 
Claude Fixler, Angie Hyatt, Betsy Kelsey, Sandra E. 
Knudsen, Lee Mooney, Anne O. Morris, Lawrence W. 
Nichols, Mary Plouffe, Karen Serota, Rochelle Slosser, 
Davira S. Taragin, Judy Weinberg, Patricia J. Whitesides, 
and my own staff, including Kathy Gee, Julia Habrecht, 
Nicole Rivette, and volunteer Mizuho Saito. Finally, a huge 
debt of gratitude goes to my primary editor, Richard H. 
Putney, and editors Sandra E. Knudsen, Timothy A. Motz, 
and Richard R. Silverman, all of whom helped refine and 
shape this catalogue. It is hoped that by showcasing this 
little-known part of the Toledo Museum collections, a 
better understanding of this remarkable art form and of the 
culture that demanded its creation, will inform and excite 
our audiences. 

This book is dedicated to my wonderful mother and my 
dear husband, who through their love and encouragement 
made me believe I could do anything I set out to do. 

Carolyn M. Putney, Associate Curator of Asian Art 



2 Acknowledgments 

4 A Pronunciation Guide 

5 Preface 

Chapter 1 : What are Netsuke? 
13 Chapter 2: Netsuke-A Variety of Types 

17 Chapter 3: Materials, Artists, and their Techniques 

21 Catalogue 

21 Religious Figures, cat. nos. 1-13 

27 Legendary Figures, cat. nos. 14-24 

33 Genre, cat. nos. 25-35 

38 Nature, cat. nos. 36-43 

42 Theater, cat. nos. 44-46 

44 Foreigners, cat. nos. 47-50 

46 Selected Bibliography 

47 List of Netsuke by Accession Number 

48 index 




Reverse of cat. no. 43. 

Pronouncing Japanese is not difficult if you follow 
this easy guide. 

The vowels, a, e, i, o, and u are pronounced as they 
are in most Romance languages (especially Italian). 

a as in father 
e as in bet 
i as in machine 
o as in only 
u as in assume 

Two vowels together (diphthongs) are usually 
pronounced as follows: 

ei as in reign 
ai as in aisle 

In spoken Japanese, vowels are often omitted or slurred, 
so netsuke is pronounced "net-skeh." 

Most consonants are pronounced as they are in English, 
with a few exceptions. G is always hard as in "get." R is 
pronounced closer to the sound of L. N can sometimes 
sound like NG, except at the beginning of a word. All 
syllables are stressed equally. 

Courtesy of Richard R. Silverman 

) f 

re lace 


Personal adornment can be the mosi innovative, sophisticated, and 
extravagant ol the .ins. rhe people ol |apan created souk- ol the 
most opulent personal accessories during the Edo Period (1615- 
1868) in order to pouches and purses to their cl.ilior.itc silk 
clothing. |apanese artists invented the iiiini.iturc sculptures known 
.is nctsukc .is Listeners to serve this fashion impulse among the 
luxury-loving citizens ol the urban centers ol seventeenth- and 
eighteenth-century fapan. I he [apanese have collected netsuke for 
centuries, and since the late nineteenth century, western collectors 
and museums have ardently sought these tiny treasures ot wit, 
whimsy, and craftsmanship. 

The Toledo Museum is fortunate to have an excellent collection 

ot netsuke. The first example was received in 1926 from W. P. 
Baker (cat. no. 36). Since that time, three remarkable donors have 
substantially created our collection, which now totals more than 
250 netsuke (plus 94 inro and 91 ojime), 50 ot which are 
showcased in this book. 

• Noah II. Swayne and his wife were in expanding 
the Museum's netsuke holdings. Mr. Swayne (1847-1922) was a 
prominent Toledo lawyer and civic leader and the son ol a United 
States Supreme Court justice. His wile Frances donated 23 of 
their netsuke to the Museum in I 928 and 1929, works most likely 
acquired during their several trips to |apan. 

• Harry Fee, a successful member ot the Adrian. Michigan, business 

community, vastly expanded the collection with important gifts in the 
late 1940s and early 1950s. Mr. lee (1868-1955), with his father. 
puhlisher ot the Adrian Daily Times, started the Adrian Electric 1 igln 
and I'ower Works in 1890. He retired in 1938 as manager of the 
Commercial Savings Bank ot Adrian. A noted philanthropist, he 
rounded Hidden I ake Cardens in Mii.liig.ins Irish Hills. Assembling 
a large collection ot Asian art. most ot it acquired during annual 
vacations in California, he donated a significant body ot works to the 
Museum that included Chinese ceramics and lapanese lacquei as well 
as many netsuke. ojime. and inro. 

• In recent vcars. the generous donations of Richard R. Silverman, 
one ot the most prominent collectors ol netsuke in the world, have 
significantly increased the size and quality ot our collection of 
lapanese art. A native ot Toledo and a graduate of Kraiulcis 

University. Mr. Silverman has eommitted Ins life to teaching, 

writing, and lecturing on the arts ol |apan. He began collecting 
while residing lot sixteen years in |apan and is a member <>l the 
board of directors ol the International Netsuke Society. His 

devotion to the Toledo Museum ol Art includes not only gills <>l 

rate glass netsuke (e.g.. cat. no. 24) and other Japanese decorative 
arts hut also the generous sharing ot his knowledgeol this 
specialized field. With this exhibition, we are particularly pleased 
to he able to announce his most recent gilt to the Museum, an 
extraordinary two-part, early nineteenth-century netsuke of a 
warrior wearing a helmet (eat. no. 34). Mr. Silverman has also 
helped edit this catalogue; lor that, and all his support of this 
exhibition, we are deeply grateful. 

In 1990 our entire collection ol netsuke, inro, and ojime was 
installed for visitor enjoyment and study in the Asian art gallery 
by Kurt T. I.uckncr, curator ot ancient art. with the expert 
assistance ot Richard Silverman and Carolyn Putney. Visitor 
response to this appealing display encouraged additional talks and 
programs, culminating in the proposal that an exhibition feature 
our masterpieces and include materials to provide some social and 
historical context. The Museum is indebted to Carolyn M. Putney 
for conceiving and developing the exhibition Japanese Treasures: 
The Art of Netsuke Carving in The Toledo Museum of Art (April 18— 
June 1 1, 2000). Several institutions and individuals kindly loaned 
objects: the Cleveland Museum ol Art, Obcrlin College, and a 
private collector from New England. The exhibition was made- 
possible by a grant Irom the l.ila Wallace-Reader's Digest T'und 
Museum Collections Accessibility Initiative at The Toledo Museum 
ot Art. Additional support was provided by Mrs. Kdward A. Kern 
and Mr. and Mrs. Robert L Huebner. 

Publication ot this book, which captures and shares the delights 
ot the exhibition, was made possible by a gilt from Mr. and Mrs. 
Robert L Huebner. with the assistance of the Andrew W. Mellon 
foundation. We hope that focusing on this choice but little known 
part ol the "Toledo Museum ol Art collection will promote both 
understanding and enjoyment ol this intimate art lorni and the 
sophisticated culture that created it. 

Roger M. Berkowitz, Director 

What are Netsuke? 

Japanese artists cleverly invented the miniature 
sculptures known as netsuke to serve a very practical 
(unction. Traditional Japanese garments — robes 
called kosode and kimono — had no pockets (see ills. pp. 6 
and 9). Men who wore them needed a place to keep 
personal belongings such as pipes, tobacco, money, seals, or 
medicines. The elegant solution was to place such objects in 
containers (called sagemono) hung by cords from the robes' 
sash. The containers might take the form of a pouch or a 
small woven basket, but the most popular were beautifully 
crafted boxes (inro), which were held shut by ojime, sliding 
beads on cords. Whatever the form of the container, the 
fastener that secured its cord at the top of the sash was a 
carved, button-like toggle called a netsuke (see ills. pp. 8 
and 19 for two matching sets of inro, ojime, and netsuke). 
Such objects, often of great artistic merit, have a long 
history reflecting important aspects of Japanese life. 

This introductory chapter outlines the historical forces that 
gave rise to the Japanese tradition for netsuke, and briefly 
examines the social context in which they functioned. The 
second chapter describes major types of netsuke. The third 
focuses on the artists who made netsuke and their working 
methods and materials. Finally, a brief catalogue examines 
fifty of the finest examples of netsuke currently owned by 
the Toledo Museum of Art. 

listorical background: I he t,do leriod 

Although experts cannot determine the precise date when 
netsuke were first used with any precision, the time in 
Japanese history that witnessed the highest demand for 
their production was the Edo Period (161 5-1868). Many 
aspects of this important era fed the Japanese demand for 
elegant luxury goods, including netsuke. 

"Edo" was the name of the capital city of Japan established 
by warlords of the Tokugawa family in the early 1600s (see 
map p. 8). Today we know Edo as Tokyo, which remains 
the center of government. Prior to the founding of the new 
capital, Japanese society was led by emperors residing in the 
city of Kyoto; however, their power had paled compared 
to that of the feudal warlords known as shogun. The latter 
were heads of powerful military families who, from the 
twelfth century onward, became the effective rulers of 
Japan. Struggling to expand their power, they weakened the 
authority of the emperors, who became rulers in name only. 

Just before the emergence of Edo in the early seventeenth 
century, Japan suffered from ongoing, devastating warfare 
between powerful military families. The most powerful of 
these clans was the Tokugawa, whose shogun was Tokugawa 
leyasu (1 543-1616). (A note to the reader: Japanese family 
names are written first, their given names last; therefore 
Tokugawa was the family name of the individual named 


Tokvo (Edo) 





Ieyasu.) Between 1603 and 1615, he ended the chaos 
of civil war by subduing his rivals, reunifying most or 
the country, and setting up his new administrative 
capital in Edo. As the residence of the emperor and his 
imperial court, Kyoto remained steeped in tradition; as 
the real center of power, Edo soon began to rival the 
old capital in terms of cultural achievement, and far 
surpassed it economically. 

1 he Japanese L lass !>yste 


Shifting patterns of wealth, a rise in urbanism, and new 
trends in artistic production accompanied the emergence of 
Edo. Traditional Japan had a class system, based upon the 
ideas of the Chinese philosopher Confucius. At the summit 
of the social organization was the emperor and his extended 
family; below them came the very powerful warrior class of 
samurai, composed of the shogun of Japan, his feudal lords 
(daimyo), and other feudal retainers. Wealth was based 
upon the holding of land. The lords were given huge 
estates, collecting their large income in the form of rice 
produced by farmers (no), who formed the next level down 
on the social scale. The lowest, called chonin, was com- 
posed of artisans and merchants; the latter were considered 
the lowest class because they did not produce any tangible 
products useful to society. (Ordinary workers, called eta, 
were considered to be outside of the class system entirely.) 
Although these social divisions remained in place through- 
out the Edo Period, merchants stood at the center of the 
new economic expansion. Their increased wealth, com- 
bined with several other social trends, was to change the 
face of Japanese society and expand the range and quantity 
of artistic production. 

Nctsukc-ojimc-inro set with monkeys holding peaches; see cat. no. 17 

I lie Rise o\ the C ity ol udo 

Before the city of Edo was established, art had been totally 
controlled by the emperor's court, the shogun, and the 
religious communities. The rapid growth and commercial- 
ism of the new capital city plus the absence of the imperial 
court, made art popular and available to all levels of society. 
Men and women of all classes became interested in art 
forms such as painting, calligraphy (which in Japan was 
closely related to painting), music, and games of skill such 
as archery. Indeed, personal enjoyment of the arts became 
a main pursuit of society in Edo and other urban centers. 
The artistic contrasts between the two cities were already 
quite apparent in the seventeenth century. Kyoto remained 
traditional and conservative, and the luxurious art forms 
created there were based on Japan's literary and artistic 
past. Tastes in Edo were much more forward-looking and 
modern by comparison, and innovation in art was much 
admired. By the eighteenth century, Edo was the artistic 
center of Japan, creating works related to the pursuits of 
its newly rich and growing class of chonin. 

An important reason for Edo's rapid growth was the 
shogun's law, passed in 1634, of sankin kotai. This law 
required the feudal lords — daimyo — to set up large homes 
in Edo as well as to maintain the estates in the countryside 
that were their seats of power. This system was devised to 
keep the feudal lords from accumulating wealth and power 
that might be used to oppose the central government from 
afar. When the daimyo visited their country estates, their 
families were required to stay in the city as virtual hostages. 
The many servants and vassals required to serve the families 
of the lords, but who were forced to leave their own 
families in the countryside, served only to fuel the desire 
for pleasure-seeking activities in the city. Areas in each city 
were set aside as "pleasure quarters," which had theaters, 
shops, restaurants, and geisha houses (see ills. pp. 10 and 
1 1). Geisha were professional female dancers, singers, and 
entertainers. The establishments they worked for ranged 
from the most elegant places of entertainment to houses 
of prostitution. 

Kimono (Meiji Period, 1880-1900). Painted silk, h. 66 in. (168 cm). 
© Oberlin, Ohio, Oberlin College, Allen Memorial Art Museum AMAM 
1969.72. (Photo: John Seyfried, 1999.) 

Citizens of Edo watching an outdoor drama. Detail, festival scenes: pair of 
six-fold screens. Matabei School, Edo Period (1615—1868). Ink and color 
on gold ground paper, h. 20 >/-> in. (51.5 cm); w. 82 1/4 in. (208.9 cm). 
© Cleveland, Ohio, The Cleveland Museum of Art; The Kelvin Smith 
Collection, given by Mrs. Kelvin Smith 1985-.279.1-.2 

Another factor that contributed to the explosion of city 
life in Japan during the Edo Period was the connecting of 
the four major urban centers by highways and waterways. 
New roads linked each of the cities to the rural areas of 
Japan and to each other; this promoted more efficient 
inter-regional trade and helped break down the old feudal 
ways of life. In the cities, wider ranges of information, a 
vast variety of goods, and leisure pastimes became available 
to all classes of society, not just the elite. 

Connections to lands beyond Japanese shores also fed 
the remarkable flourishing of the arts in Edo Japan. In 
the 1630s, the shogun prohibited Japanese citizens from 
traveling abroad. In spite of this enforced seclusion of the 
population, contact with the outside world was maintained 

through the port city of Nagasaki on Deshima Island. 
Foreign traders, especially Chinese and Dutch, brought 
goods and materials necessary to the Japanese economy; 
imports included materials such as ivory used for the 
production of netsuke. Traditionally, much of Japan's 
aristocratic culture had been based on that of China. Thus, 
the maintenance of trade with China kept Japanese artists 
and craftsman in touch with Chinese myth, folklore, and 
imagery, which they incorporated into their own work. 

Ukiyo-e: 1 he Lure of the Moating Worlcl 

All these social changes led to an urban life focused on the 
pleasures of the moment. Surprisingly, the new attitude had 
roots in Japanese religious traditions. Ancient Buddhism 
had referred to the illusory nature of material experience as 
ukiyo-e, which literally means "pictures of the floating 
world." This term refers to the Buddhist concepts that the 
world is only an illusion and that life is just a transient state 
that lasts for a moment. In the Edo Period, this spiritual 
notion of transience was transformed into a more secular 
one. In eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Edo society, 
people in such urban centers as Edo, Kyoto, Osaka, and 
Nagasaki actively pursued luxury and the "illusory" 
pleasures of the senses provided by the arts. Paintings, 
woodblock prints, and the decorative arts, all associated 
with the new meaning of ukiyo-e, were in high demand 
among collectors (see ill. p. 12). People no longer wanted 
reminders of the traditional past but instead wanted images 
of their lively surroundings, favorite actors and entertainers, 
and popular scenic tourist spots (see ill. p. 6). 

In sum, Edo Japan was characterized by a population that 
was increasingly literate and wealthy and that had more 
leisure time on its hands. Never before had so many citizens 
participated in social and cultural activities. These included 
the popular form of theater, Kabuki; festivals celebrating 
nature and folk traditions; painting and poetry parties; and 
tea ceremonies. Even the eta, those outside of and below 
the class system, could enjoy the pleasure quarters of 
Japanese cities. Edos affluent merchants and artisans 

(the chonin) became urban sophisticates, whose ambition 
was to perfect the art of living well. This group was among 
the wealthiest in the country, but its members remained 
officially in the lowest and least privileged class. Having 
no political power, they expressed themselves by disobeying 
the government's sumptuary laws, which prohibited the 
spending of huge sums of money on food and luxury 
items such as silk garments. 

fashion as jtatus 

In spite of official disapproval, fashion was a supreme 
measure of status and taste in the cities. Wealthy men 
spent fortunes on their clothes and those of their wives. 
The textiles created for these citizens are among the most 
spectacular ever made. Men generally wore more subdued 
patterns than did women, but they could further display 
their taste through the choice of elegant accessories such 
as inro and netsuke, which they suspended from beautiful 
sashes (see ills. pp. 6 and 18). A rich gentleman owned 
many of these garments and accessories, some appropriate 
to the season or the occasion, some simply for conspicuous 
display. Thus, every major urban center supported a 
number of lacquer makers and netsuke carvers who 
specialized in the production of the fashionable 
accessories that are the subject of this catalogue. 

Tlu- d 


ol Netsuke in the West 

In 1853/54, Commodore Matthew Perry visited Japan 
with an American fleet and opened the country to foreign 
visitors. Within a generation, western influence led many 
Japanese to abandon traditional dress, resulting in decreas- 
ing demand for the production of netsuke. However, 
westerners found the miniature sculptures fascinating 
in themselves; they loved the satire and humor, so much 
a part of the Japanese national character and so often 
found in the carvers art. Individuals and museums began 
to acquire netsuke, sometimes with inro and ojime, 
sometimes without, a collecting tradition that continues. 

?' ■'■'■ '■' 

Men visiting the pleasure quarters. Detail, festival scenes: pair of six-fold 
screens. Matabei School, Edo Period (1615-1868). Ink and color on gold 
ground paper, h. 20 'A, in. (51.5 cm); w. 82 >/-. in. (208.9 cm). © 
Cleveland, Ohio, The Cleveland Museum of Art; The Kelvin Smith 
Collection, given by Mrs. Kelvin Smith 1985-.279. 1-.2 





J Netsuke^/\ Variety 01 lypes 

The word netsuke literally means "root fastener" 
(ne = "root" and tsuke = "to fasten"). The 
compound word, first found in Japanese texts of 
the seventeenth century, hints at the origins of these objects 
as simple organic fasteners. Found objects such as a gourds, 
shells, or twigs were attached to the end of a cord, whose 
other end was attached to a sagemono, or suspended object. 
In order to secure the hanging object, the wearer slipped 
the netsuke upward between the garment and its outer 
sash, allowing the netsuke to hang over the top of the sash 
(see ill. p. 6). The sagemono could be a tobacco pouch, a 
money purse, or the object that became most typical, an 
inro. Usually, inro were lacquered boxes with multiple 
compartments used to hold seals, herbs, and medicines. 
No one knows exactly when these containers came into 
common use, but some scholars believe that netsuke were 
used to secure an object to a sash as early as the fifteenth 
century. From relatively primitive beginnings, netsuke 
developed into a significant art form. By the Edo Period 
(1615-1868), fashionable gentlemen began to collect these 
accessories, which were made into elegant sets composed 
of netsuke, sliding bead fasteners called ojime, and inro 
(see ills. pp. 8 and 19). 

Many elements went into the design of a netsuke that was 
beautiful and functioned well. It was most important that 
it have no projecting parts that could break off or snag the 
costly fabric of a kimono. (This rule did not apply to many 
later nineteenth-century netsuke; produced as independent 
works of art rather than to be worn, they could have more 
complex profiles with protruding parts.) Other require- 
ments for a successful netsuke were to have a side that 
could lie flat against the sash and to be balanced so as not 
to hang in an awkward position. Intended for handling 
by its owner, a good example should have an appealing feel 
as well as a pleasing appearance. Displaying a netsuke to 
business acquaintances and friends — "showing it off" — 
was sometimes just as important to an owner as the actual 
function of the miniature sculpture. 

The carving of netsuke became a highly refined craft 
among the artists who specialized in creating these minia- 
ture works of art. Categorized by their form and decora- 
tion, netsuke generally fall into the eight types illustrated 
on the following pages. 




Probably the earliest type of netsuke, the manju is a carved, 
solid, round fastener named after a type of sweet rice bun 
of similar form. The silk cord that attached this type of 
netsuke to the inro is fastened by means of a metal ring on 
the top of the netsuke or by a hole punched through its 
back. (Manju with a Kabuki player. 19th century. Lacquer, 
copper, gold, and silver; d. 1 Vs in. [4.1 cm]. Unsigned. 
Gift of H. A. Fee; 1948.129.) 


This type is round like the manju but not solid. Instead, 
it has designs cut entirely through the netsuke to form 
openwork patterns, making it appear delicate and lace-like. 
The name derives from that of the artist, active in the 
1780s, who invented this type. (Ryusa with bamboo and 
chrysanthemums. 19th century. Ivory and silver; d. 17 /i6 in. 
[3.7 cm]. Unsigned. Gift of H. A. Fee; 1950.80.) 




The round, "mirror-lidded" kagamibuta is a variation on 
the manju, named for its resemblance to a type of Japanese 
mirror. A metal lid, often elaborately carved, tops a shallow, 
carved and undecorated bowl. The knot of the cord is 
hidden in the hollow interior of the netsuke. (Kagamibuta 
with a bridge scene. Edo Period (1615-1868). Ivory and 
metal; d. 2 in. [5.1 cm]. Unsigned. Gift of H. A. Fee; 

The most popular type of netsuke — generally considered 
the finest as well — is the small, three-dimensional carving 
called katabori, which means, "carved tooth." The fastening 
cord usually runs through two holes, called himotoshi, 
which were located so that the carving could be shown to 
its best advantage. (Katabori of a sennin. Mid 19th century. 
Boxwood; h. 3 9 /i6 in. [9.0 cm]. Unsigned. Gift of H. A. 
Fee; 1948.173.) 




This type of netsuke is an elongated form of katabori. The 

sashi is longer in order to tuck part of it into the sash, thus 
giving better support and balance to a suspended object of 
some weight. The holes (himotoshi) are located at one end 
of the object so that the cord will not interfere with the 
function of the netsuke. (Shoki, a mythical Chinese hero, 
fighting an Oni, a nasty Buddhist devil. 1 8th— 1 9rh century. 
Ivory; h. 3 l5 /i« in. [10 cm]. Unsigned. Gift of H. A. Fee; 

Netsuke in the form of masks are usually miniature copies 
of those worn in the forms of the Japanese theater: Noh, 
Bugaku, Gigaku, and Kyogen. Many mask netsuke were 
created in Edo because of the wild popularity of the theater 
there. (Mask of Ranryo, a mythical Chinese prince in 
ancient Bugaku court and temple dances, who was assured 
of winning battles if he wore this ferocious mask. Late 19th 
century. Boxwood; h. 2 in. [5.1 cm]. Unsigned. Gift of 
H. A. Fee; 1948.183.) 



[rick netsuke have movable parts or hidden devices to 
delight and surprise. This netsuke appears to be a kaki, 
a type of persimmon, but it opens to reveal a minute 
ivory carving of Benten, the goddess of learning, music, 
and speech, seated under a pine tree. (Persimmon with 
concealed figure of Benten. 19th century. Sandalwood 
and ivory; h. 1 '/, in. [3.1 cm]. Signed: Kagetoshi. 
Gift of H. A. Fee; 1950.130.) 

Made in the shape of a lidded box, hako netsuke are often 
carved out of lacquered wood, with inlays of a variety of 
materials. (Hako decorated with tatebina dolls. 19th 
century. Lacquer, inlaid with shell and gold foil; h. 1 '/s in. 
[3.5 cm]. Unsigned. Gift of H. A. Fee; 1952.47.) 

N c -• V- - 

/Vlaterials/ /\rtists/ and their lech 


Nersuke artists (netsuke-shi) usually carved their 
creations out of wood or ivory. They used 
woods indigenous to Japan, including cypress, 
boxwood, cherry, ebony, bamboo, and sandalwood. As 
ivory is not native to Japan, it had to be imported at great 
expense, primarily through China. Even when Japan was 
closed to the outside world from the seventeenth through 
nineteenth centuries, Chinese merchants were allowed to 
import ivory into Japan because of the high demand. 
Artisans also exploited substitutes such as marine ivory 
or walrus tusk. 

Artists sometimes used other materials. Stag antler seems 
unusual, but there was a plentiful supply from Japanese 
deer (see cat. no. 43). It is considered one of the most 
difficult materials to use and is highly prized when carved 
well. Lacquered wood was popular, although it was more 
often used to make inro. Lacquer is the clear sap from the 
lac tree which, when dry, resembles the appearance and 
durability of modern acrylic; layer upon layer of lacquer 
could be built up, so that after it dried it could even be 
carved to create a very pleasing surface. Artists could also 
add color to lacquer, or even precious metals such as gold or 
silver for spectacular effects. Netsuke-shi could also enhance 
wood, ivory, or lacquer netsuke by applying inlays of 
mother-of-pearl, horn, brass or other metals, glass, or coral. 

Occasionally, netsuke can be found fabricated entirely of 
metal. A rather rare material used was porcelain, with most 
examples made in the nineteenth century at the Hirado 
kilns on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu 

(cat. nos. 35 and 40). The Toledo Museum of Art has 
several examples of another seldom-used material, glass 
(cat. no. 24). Also used but unusual were such novelty 
materials as dried seeds, fruit pits, nuts, semi-precious 
stones, animal bones, and even bird skulls. 

/\rtists/ /xrtisans/ ana Workshops 

The first carvers of netsuke are anonymous, but it is 
generally thought that they may have been woodcarvers 
whose normal work was the production of small Buddhist 
shrines for individuals, or ivory carvers who made signature 
seals. Japanese metalworkers may also have been important 
in the early production of netsuke. Although they focused 
on the making of swords, in times of peace they often 
turned to work, like netsuke, that was more decorative. 
The first Japanese text to mention netsuke carvers by 
name is the Soken Kisho, a book of 1781 dealing with 
swords and their accessories. Written by Inaba Tsuryu, a 
sword merchant and dealer in antiques from Osaka, the 
book lists fifty-seven carvers, most from the major urban 
centers of Osaka, Kyoto, and Edo, but also a few from 
smaller provincial towns. Unfortunately, few signed works 
by the artists named in the book have been identified; this 
fact leads to the assumption that not many eighteenth- 
century netsuke-shi signed their pieces. An important 
reason was that it was considered very poor etiquette for 
an artist to sign a work made for the emperor, a shogun, 
or a daimyo. However, the signing of works apparently was 
more common in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. 

Harunorni (1718-1780), "Two women and a man," detail. Back of Shoji 
partition (modern reproduction). Woodblock print, h. 1 1 i/n in. (lift of 
H.A. Fee. 1953.162/71. 

What is certain is that once an artist established himself as 
a competent craftsman, he set up a workshop, usually in 
conjunction with members of his own family. Such 
establishments often functioned for several generations. 
The Japanese class system encouraged this practice, because 
once a person was born into the artisan class, it was almost 
impossible to rise into another class. Artisans, who were 
usually men, tended to train their sons in the same occupa- 
tion, thus passing it on from one generation to the next. 

Occasionally, artists expanded their workshops into schools, 
training students from outside their families in the carving 
of netsuke. Whether inside a family or not, the social and 
stylistic relationships of master and pupil were very strong. 
A master sometimes allowed outstanding pupils the honor 
of using his name on a finished product, and a master's 
name was sometimes inscribed on any piece from his 
workshop. Also, workshops or schools sometimes imitated 
the style of a revered master carver of the past. While the 
copying of a work of a master by a pupil was not considered 
a dishonest practice, some carvers produced forgeries of 
great artists' works; thus, special care must be taken in the 
attribution of netsuke to specific masters. All these practices 
make certain identification of a particular artist's work very 
difficult. Today, even when we know the name of a specific 
artist, we rarely know details of his biography. 

Possibly the most famous netsuke carver whose name is 
known and who is represented in the Toledo Museum of 
Art collection is the eighteenth-century artist Masanao of 
Kyoto (cat. no. 8). He is one of the artists listed in the 
Soken Kisho, where it reads simply: "Masanao from the 
capital Kyoto. He is skillful at carving ivory, wood, and 
other materials. He deserves high praise and recognition." 
We know virtually nothing else about him save the remark- 
able works signed by him or attributed to him by modern 
experts. However, his reputation for excellence is reflected 
in the adoption of the name Masanao by a long line of 
netsuke carvers stretching from his own day to the present. 
Indeed, the craftsmanship of the Masanao workshop of 
today is considered as fine as that of its namesake. 


lools and lechniquc 

The typical methods tor creating netsuke involved the 

carving ot raw materials such as wood or ivory, hach artisan 
created and used his own set ot tools, an assortment ot 
metal scrapers and thills. Putting all his energy into his 
work, the carver generally sal on the floor to keep his 
arms ami hands as tree as possible. 

Usually taking a month or two to make a netsuke, a good 
artist went to great lengths to create an inspirational one. 
The process often began with the production ot many 
preliminary sketches. Many specialized techniques were 
used by skilled nctsuke-shi in executing the design. 
Kngraving was necessary to add details to hair or to make 
inscriptions on a piece. Inlaying was often used to create 
eves or patterns on a robe. Staining and painting were 
employed to add color to ivory or wood. Lacquering, as 
noted, was a very highly valued skill, and many compli- 
cated processes were necessary to create lacquer netsuke. 
linallv, metalwork was sometimes used in making netsuke, 
particularly the kagamibuta type, with its "mirror" or metal 
lid made ot special allows. 

In the 1 do Period, it was rare tor a netsuke carver to make 
a good income, even tor the most gifted artists. Living a 
meager existence subject to incessant demands, the artist 
received little public sympathy tor the rigors ot his work. 
As with many western artists ot the nineteenth century, tame 
came to the nctsuke-shi only atter death. A case in point is 
one ot the most famous artists represented in the Museum 
collection, Kokusai, who also signed his pieces as Koku (cat. 
nos. 16 and 43). Working in the second half of the nine- 
teenth century, his real name was Ozaki Soyo. At age 
twenty-one, he entered the school of the master carver 
Gyokuyosai Mitsuhina, where he studied ivory carving for 
tour years. As a master himself, he specialized in carving 
Chinese-inspired motifs out of stag antler. In spite of his 
reputation tor designing and fabricating extraordinary 
netsuke, he did not enjoy a lucrative livelihood. Instead, 
he became a professional comedian in order to pay for 
the education of his son Ozaki Koyo, who became a 
great novelist. 

Today netsuke are still produced as art objects In .i 
numbei ol [apanese craftsmen. However, some artisans 
from Lngland, America, Australia, New Zealand, and 
l.astern Kurope have taken up this fine traditional craft. 
(In the 1990s there were forty-four members ot the 
International Netsuke ( iarvers Association. The older 
artist-members, such as Bishu, were (apanese; interestingly, 
nearly all the members under the age of forty were 
westerners.) Still able to delight the senses, netsuke retain 
powerful associations with the fascinating traditions of a 
magnificent Asian society. 

Netsuke-ojime-inro sei featuring Raiden, the thundet god; see cat no. 15. 


1 Emma-O 

Mid 19th century 

Wood and ivory; h. I '/. in. (3.2 cm) 


Bequest of Noah U. Swayne, 1922; 1927.1 17 

Some Japanese Buddhists believed that after death the soul 
left this world and wandered through the next, which 
included a heavenly realm and several forms of hell. Along 
the way, the soul encountered stopping places where it was 
examined by various judges. Emma-O, the king of the 
underworld, was a much-feared judge who handed out 
punishments to sinful souls. In this work, Emma-O is 
shown boating on a lotus leaf, a Buddhist symbol of purity, 
with his book of judgment. A demon paddles the king 
along the stream Sanzu-no-Kawa, or "River of Three 
Choices." The choices refer to three possible destinations 
for the soul: hell, a return to earth as a beast, or continued 
wandering between heaven and hell as a homeless ghost. 




2 Fukurokuju and a Chinese boy 

19th century 

Ivory; h. 1 '7h, in. (4.0 cm) 

Signed: Masakazu 

Gift of H. A. Fee; 1952.46 

Fukurokuju is one of the Seven Gods of Good Fortune. 
Derived from the religions of Buddhism, Shinto, and 
Taoism, this group of immortals was established in Japanese 
popular belief toward the end of the 1 6th century. 
Fukurokuju brings fortune, wealth, and longevity to those 
who worship him. In his earthly life, he was Chinese — 
a scholar and wise man associated with the Taoist religion. 
In this image, he is immediately recognizable by his long, 
high-domed head and extremely short legs. He is shown 
with a Chinese boy, a reference both to his teaching and 
country of origin. Fukurokuju is also depicted on the 
matching inro flying on a white crane, his constant 
companion, which symbolizes long life. 


3 Wandering briar 

Early 20th century 
Ivory; h. 1 '/: in. (3.8 cm) 

Bequest of" Noah H. Swayne, 1922; 1927.1 14 

This friar may be a member of the yamabushi, a group of 
itinerant Buddhist priests who as early as the eighth century 
went to the farthest reaches of Japan in order to spread the 
word or Buddha. They are given credit for drawing the 
earliest maps or Japan. He wears a wide woven straw hat to 
protect against wind and rain and holds a sake bottle in one 
hand and a scroll in the other. However, a similar netsuke 
in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in 
London is identified simply as a sake seller. This type of 
netsuke is often called a trick netsuke because of the 
moveable tongue in the mans mouth. 

4 Kinko Sennin on a carp 

1 9th century 

Ivory; h. 1 Vir, in. (3.3 cm) 


Gift of H. A. Fee; 1948.144 

The Chinese nature-based religion called Taoism was 
brought to Japan as early as the sixth century. Mountain 
wise men, known as sennin in Japan, were common 
subjects for the netsuke carver. This sennin is probably 
Kinko, who lived beside a river and was a painter offish. 
One day a giant carp offered to take him for a ride into the 
realm of the immortals. He returned after a month, telling 
his followers never to kill another fish. He then jumped 
into the river, where he was transformed into a carp 
himself. Kinko is usually shown reading aTaoist scroll 
while riding on the back of the magical fish. 

5 Gama Scnnin with two toads 

1 9th century 

Ivory; h. 3 /* in. (9.8 cm) 

Attributed to Masaka 

Gift ofH. A. Fee; 1948.162 

I his Taoist sage, named Kokensei, is known as (lama 
(meaning toad) Sennit] because he is always shown with 
one or two toads. Even without the animal attributes, he- 
can be identified as a sennit) by the leaf apron he wears. 
There are several folk legends that explain his connection 
to toads. Some claim that Kokensei could turn into a toad 
at will, while others relate that the sage once cured a toad 
and toads followed him ever after. 

6 Manju netsuke with Ryu Sennin 

Early 1 9th century 

Ivory; d. 1 is /k> in. (4.9 cm.) 

Signed: Gyoku 

Gift of H. A. Fee; 1948.156 

One of the many magical powers attributed to Ryu 
(Ryu means dragon) Sennin was the ability to conjure up 
a dragon in his rice bowl. Dragons could dwell either in 
the sky or the sea and could carry individuals between 
heaven and earth, so the ability of the sennin to create 
a dragon was very impressive. 


7 Sleeping Hotei 

Late 19th century 

Wood, ivory, and silver; h. 1 in. (2.5 cm) 

Signed: Hoshu 

Gift of H. A. Fee; 1948.166 

One of the most popular of the Seven Gods of Good 
Fortune is Hotei, the god of happiness. His origins can 
be traced back to a Ghinese Buddhist priest of the sixth 
century, but he became wildly popular in Japan. His happy 
round face, large stomach, and treasure bag, which often 
contains items of good fortune, help identify Hotei. 
Ghinese children usually accompany him as well. 

8 Reclining rabbit in a kimono 

Late 18th century 

Ivory and amber; w. 2 Vu, in. (5.5 cm) 

Signed: Masanao of Kyoto 

Gift of H. A. Fee; 1950.171 

This is a rare image of a clothed animal by one of the best 
netsuke-shi of all time, the very famous Kyoto carver 
Masanao. While the rabbit is a familiar subject of artists 
and the fourth animal of the Zodiac, rabbits and hares are 
usually not shown in robes. The fact that this rabbit wears 
a monk's kimono leads one to believe that this is a represen- 
tation of a character from the Choju Giga (Frolicking 
Animals) scrolls of the twelfth century. The scrolls were the 
work of Buddhist monks who made fun of their fellow 
clerics by portraying them as animals as they went about 
their daily activities and rituals. The art of ink caricatures 
was revived in the Edo period and cartoons, or manga, 
became a favorite genre for painters and netsuke-shi alike. 

9 Seated Daruma 

1 9th century 

Ivory; h. 1 7i6 in. (3.6 cm) 
Signed: Masanao (inscribed) 
Gift of H. A. Fee; 1950.167 

The original Daruma, also known as Bodhidharma, was 
the founder of Zen Buddhism. He was said to be an Indian 
prince who converted to Buddhism in the sixth century 
and then became a missionary to China, where he founded 
his religious order. He sat in meditation for nine years to 
draw attention to the Zen sect, and he withstood various 
hardships, like losing the use of his legs and cutting off his 
eyelids in order not to fall asleep. By the time this legend 
came to Japan, he had become rather a comic figure and is 
often shown in an irreverent manner. While this netsuke 
bears the signature of the famous carver Kyoto Masanao, 
another carver, without using the hallmark oval reserve 
around the name that would make it genuine, inscribed it. 

10 Daikoku and Hotei as wrestlers 

Early 19th century 

Boxwood; h. 2 *U in. (7.0 cm) 


Gift of H. A. Fee; 1950.135 

Two of the Seven Gods of Good Fortune, Daikoku and 
Hotei, gods of wealth and happiness, are both of Buddhist 
origin. The unusual cap identifies the top figure as 
Daikoku. The gods are placed in a contemporary context 
as two sumo wrestlers, a humorous touch that was quite 
common practice for netsuke-shi in the Fdo Period. 


1 1 Gama Scnnin on a large toad 

Mid 19th century 

Ivon-; h. 1 'Vk, in. (4.9 cm) 


Gift of H. A. Fee; 1950.143 

Each or theTaoist immortals, called sennin, has a 
distinctive attribute. Gama's companion, the toad, 
always identifies Gama Sennin. This netsuke is unusual 
because the sennin holds large peach in his hand, the 
attribute usually associated with a different sennin, 
Seiobo, whose peach tree bore fruit that granted 
eternal life. 

12 Three monkeys 

Late 19th century 

Boxwood with inlaid tortoise shell eyes; h. 1 l U in. (3.2 cm) 


Bequest of Noah H. Swayne, 1922; 1928.155 

Sambiki-saru, the three Buddhist monkeys, known to us as 
"hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil," are symbols of 
virtue. Iwasaru covers his mouth, and Kikusaru covers his 
ears, while Misaru covers his eyes; there is a famous shrine 
to the three at the great temple at Nikko. The compact 
design of this netsuke is perfect; it has no protruding parts 
to snag the wearer's kimono. 


13 Kagamibuta with Bashiko 

l'.arlv 20th century 

Ivory and silver; d. I / in. (4.7 cm) 


Gift of 1 1. A. Fee; 1950.1 15 

Bashiko, another Taoist immortal, is considered by the 
Japanese to be the first veterinary surgeon. He supposedly 
lived in China in the years 2697-2597 B.C. and cured a 
dying dragon by operating on its throat. Bashiko is rarely 
depicted in art, while another Taoist sage, Chinnan, is more 
popularly shown with dragons. 

14 Kintaro hiding behind a Tengu mask 

Late 19th century 

Wood; h. 1 Vi„ in. (3.3 cm) 


Bequest of Noah H. Swayne, 1922; 1928.151 

Kintaro was a legendary boy who became lost in the 
mountains of Japan. He gained superhuman strength 
by wrestling with all the creatures of the forest. These 
included a tengu, a mountain deity that was part bird 
and part human. Kintaro took great delight in raiding 
the nest of a tengu, who fiercely protected it with his 
tremendous strength. Masks of the tengu were often used 
in one of the traditional forms ol Japanese theater. Bug.tku. 
which combined drama with dance. 



15 Raiden 

Mid l l )th century 

Ivory, w. 2 >/g in. (5.4 cm) 

Signed: Masatami 

Gift of H. A. Fee; 1948.140 

Shinto is the name given to the indigenous religion of 
Japan, having as its main deities all the elements of nature: 
the sun, moon, wind, tides, etc. Raiden is the god of 
thunder, who looks from a cloud to the earth searching for 
a place to throw his lightning bolts. He holds a stick for 
beating his drum, which creates the thunder men hear on 
earth. There were two netsuke carvers named Masatami. 
This is most likely by the earlier artist, who worked in 
Nagova and carved mostly ivory figures. 

16 Kappa on a cucumber boat 

Late 19th century 

Ivory and applied metal; d. 1 *U in. (4.4 cm) 

Signed: Koku 

Gift of H. A. Fee; 1948.126 

A kappa is one of the many magical creatures and spirits 
that inhabit the woods and mountains of Japan. It is a 
small, furless creature that somewhat resembles a monkey 
but has an indentation on the top of its head that holds 
magical water. If the water is spilled, the kappa loses its 
powers. It lives in ponds, lakes, and rivers and thrives on 
the blood of drowned children. Kappa also have a craving 
for cucumbers, and people can satisfy them by throwing 
cucumbers into the water in the hope that the monster will 
eat the vegetable instead of feeding on humans. The artist 
Kokusai, who in this piece signed his name as Koku, 
cleverly created a cucumber vine in ivory and then placed a 
metal insert with the kappa propelling a cucumber as a boat 
in the center of the netsuke. 


17 Monkey with peach 

I do Period (10 IS- 1868) 

Wood; h. 1 7. in. (4.4 cm) 


Gift of'11. A. Fee; 1950.86 

Monkeys were very popular subjects tor netsuke carvers. I hey 
are the ninth sign or the Zodiac, and people horn under that 
sign are considered clever, good leaders, and problem solvers. 
Monkeys are often the heroes in folk legends and religious 
texts, but when shown with a peach they symbolize longevity. 
The peach is a Taoist symbol for immortality but can also 
represent femininity and peacefulness. 

18 Lion (shishi) 

Mid 1 8th century 

Lacquer; h. 1 '/a in. (2.8 cm) 


Gift of H. A. Fee; 1950.78 

This striking lion, or shishi as it is known in Japan, bears 
little resemblance to the ferocious king of the beasts with 
which we are familiar. The shishi looks more like a dog 
with fangs and a curly mane. The lion is an animal not 
found in Japan, and the image is based on Chinese and 
Indian models. They often appear in pairs at the entrances 
to temples as guardian figures and symbols of divine 


19 Dragon with coral 

Mid l l ) tli century 

Ivory and coral; \v. 1 7a in. (4.7 cm) 

Signed: Genryosai 

Gift of 11. A. Fee; 1950.161 

Genryosai, one of two Tokyo artists to work under this 
name, created this magnificent netsuke of the most 
powerful mythological creature in China and Japan and 
fifth animal of the Zodiac, the dragon. Although Asian 
dragons have no wings, they are able not only to swim the 
depths of the sea but also to fly. This dragon is set among 
clouds, clutching a huge piece of coral. Coral symbolized 
a rare and perfect thing. 

20 Tiger 

Late 18th century- 
Ivory; h. 1 Vu, in. (3.3 cm) 
Gift of H. A. Fee; 1950.144 

The Japanese learned about tigers from verbal descriptions 
and Chinese artists' depictions, since there are no tigers in 
Japan. When artists created images of tigers, they were 
merely caricatures of the mighty beast or images derived 
from local cats. Tigers are the third sign of the Zodiac, and 
people born under that sign are considered lucky, strong, 
and full of courage. 


21 Sage riding a kirin 

1 9th century 

Ivory; li. 3 '/a in. (7.9 cm) 

Signed: ( lyokuju 

Gift of H. A. Fee; 1950.141 

A kirin is a mythological animal that originated in China 
and is sometimes referred to as a unicorn because of its 
single horn. It has the body of a deer, the tail of a lion, and 
the head and legs of a horse, creating a unique hut gentle 
creature. Seeing a kirin in the clouds and surrounded by 
flames generally means a person of great importance, like 
a ruler or holy man, is about to be born. The kirin is 
considered the greatest of all mythological beasts and 
appears only every 1 0,000 years. 

22 Taoist sage 

19th century 

Marine ivory; h. 2 '/, in. (5.7 cm) 

Signed: Shogetsu 

Gift of H. A. Fee; 1950.120 

Although this figure of a bearded man has no significant 
attributes to help identify him, he is probably one of the 
numerous Taoist sages often depicted by netsuke carvers. 
When Chinese culture and religion were introduced into 
[apan in the sixth century, many of the legendary figures of 
Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism were adopted into 
Japanese beliefs. Taoist sages, who roamed the mountains 
and withdrew from civilization, were often considered 
magicians, and images of them were used as lucky charms. 


2} Ashinaga and Tenaga with a fish 

Mid 19th century 

Wood; h. 4 "/,„ in. (10.3 cm) 

Signed: Doraku 

Gift of H. A. Fee; 1948.161 

The story explaining these strange-looking men can be 
traced to Chinese mythology, which maintained that a 
peculiar race of people lived on the coast of the Pacific 
Ocean. Ashinaga, the long-legged man, carries Tenaga, the 
long-armed man, into the sea where they can catch fish in 
deep waters. When shown together, they are a symbol of 
peaceful co-operation. 

24 Suigaraake netsuke 

Early to mid 19th century 

Satsuma glass with gilt bronze mount; d. 1 Vs in. (3.5 cm) 


Gift of Richard R. Silverman; 1984.102 

This rare glass netsuke, made in the province of Satsuma, 
probably served as a personal ashtray for the wearer 
(suigaraake means tobacco ashes). The ornate gilt bronze, 
smoke-breathing dragon is quite appropriate and amusing 
considering the function of the object. Netsuke and inro 
were often combined with smoking paraphernalia worn at 
the waist. The bronze mount also serves as the attachment 
for the cord from the netsuke to the inro. 


25 Three puppies on a roof tile 

[.ate 19th century 

Wood and ivory; w. 1 ! /, in. (3.2 cm) 

Signed: Chokosai 

Bequest of Noah II. Nwaync, 1922; 1927.120 

The pups depicted here may have a symbolic meaning, 
for much is associated with them in traditional Japanese 
culture. The dog was the eleventh sign in the Japanese 
Zodiac, and in folk talcs was often honored as a deity. 
Japanese believed that dogs offered protection from evil. 
In addition, because dogs gave birth quite effortlessly, 
those desiring an easy childbirth often invoked them for 
help. Thus, this netsuke probably served as an amulet, 
perhaps one protecting the home. 



26 Drum 

19th century 

Ivory; d. 1 Vx in. (3.5 cm) 

Signed: Kajikawa 

Gift of H. A. Fee; 1948.117 

Musical instruments are often depicted in netsuke, either 
by themselves or in the hands of a musician. In Japan, there 
are three forms of drum: plain cylinders, corded or banded 
drums, and dumbbell-shaped drums (called tsuzumi). This 
netsuke represents the second type, a banded drum. 


27 Rat 

19th century 

Wood; h. 1 Vi„ in. (}.} cm) 
Attributed to Masanao of Kyoto 
Gift of II. A. Fee; 19-48.181 

This charming netsuke of a rat, with its tail wrapped 
around its body and held by its own paws, is typical of the 
style of a family of netsuke carvers named Masanao. These 
outstanding carvers specialized in creating images from 
nature in a realistic manner. At least eight members of this 
talented family worked in Kyoto under the same name 
from the late eighteenth century until the present day. 

28 Kagamibuta with landscape 

Mid 19th century 

Ivory and metal; d. 1 '/: in. (3.8 cm) 


Gift of H. A. Fee; 1948.169 

This plain, ivory bowl supports a gilt gold metal disk with 
a landscape of a rustic cottage at the waters edge. Mt. Fuji 
can be seen in the distance with puffy clouds floating 
overhead. The cottage is not the home of an impoverished 
person and, in fact, could represent the hut of an aristocrat, 
who wanted the dwelling to appear rustic in order to 
harmonize with nature. If you look closely, you can see 
the shoji, or sliding paneled door, half open to reveal the 
interior of a room. The fact that the door can actually be 
slid open is very rare and is a great example of the artist's 
clever craftsmanship. 


29 Manju with toys 

Edo Period (1615 1868) 

Ivor}', lacquer, and iridescent shell; d. 1 7n in. (4.1 cm) 


Gifi of 11. A. Fee; 1950.81 

1 his delightful round netsuke displays a selection of toys 
on one face and a new moon and plum twigs on the other. 

I he most prominent toy is an inuhariko, a brightly painted 
toy dog made of papier-mache and usually sold at Shinto 
shrines as a protective charm for children. The Oaruma 
toy, at the lower left, is like our Roly-poly toys that have 
weighted bottoms and always right themselves after being 
knocked over. Daruma is a well-known Buddhist priest 
who once meditated for nine years, sitting so long that his 
legs withered, leading to this comical depiction of him. 
Shuttlecocks, used in games, complete the group of toys. 
This netsuke may have been created for a young boy. 

30 Seated monkey 

Late 1 9th century 

Wood with inlaid glass eyes; h. 1 '/: in. (3.8 cm) 


Gift of H. A. Fee; 1950.150 

The only monkeys native to Japan are small, with tan fur 
and short tails. All other types, such as baboons and the 
long-armed monkeys often depicted in art, are copied from 
Chinese models. This realistically carved monkey, biting the 
back of his hand, has no apparent symbolic meaning but is 
a delightful example of the carvers craft. 


31 Manju with gold objects 

19th century 

Lacquer; d. 1 "/i„ in. (4.0 cm) 


Gift of H. A. Fee; 1950.1 13 

The variety and symbolism of the gold objects depicted on 
this netsuke suggest that it was made for a boy. The top, 
paper crane, and toy carp all suggest a young child's 
interests, but the addition of the sword marks the advent of 
a young boy's coming of age. While cranes stand for peace, 
carp represent a boy's strength and strong will, for the fish 
are known to swim upstream and even up waterfalls, never 
giving up until they die. Boy's Day is a national holiday in 
Japan celebrated on May fifth. 

32 Inuhariko 

19th century- 
Wood; h. 1 i/ 4 in. (3.2 cm) 
Gift of H. A. Fee; 1950.104 

Toy dogs, known as inuhariko, were originally made as 
boxes to be given to friends on a festival day. While they 
were often given to women as charms for an easy birth, 
they became very popular as good luck charms for children. 
Purchased at Shinto shrines, the brightly painted dogs, 
often made of papier-mache, are supposed to capture 
sickness and danger in the hollow cavity inside the toy. 


}.^ Court lady and gentleman with a poem card 

Mill 1 9th century 

Ivors-; h. I 7s in. (4.1 cm) 

Signed: Masatsugu 

Gift of 1 1. A. Fee; 1952.45 

Baron Morimashi Taki (1829-1914) was one of the first 
Japanese to begin collecting what the Japanese themselves 
often considered craft rather than art. He recognized that 
wonderful handmade objects — such as baskets, fabrics, 
sagemono, and netsuke — were true works of art and should 
be preserved for the heritage of Japan. This netsuke, 
showing two Heian Period (794-1 185) members of the 
emperor's court sharing a poem card, was once part of the 
Barons collection. 

34 Warrior and helmet 

Early 19th century 

Wood with horn and stag antler inlays; h. 2 7s in. (6.0 cm) 


Gift of Richard R. Silverman in the year 2000 in memory 

of his brother Irwin Silverman; 2000. 

This fierce warrior wears the elaborate helmet favored by 
feudal lords and their vassals in the Momoyama Period 
(1568-1600). The intricate helmet is carved with monsters 
around the top and plant forms on the neck guards. The 
story of how the collector came to acquire this netsuke is 
truly remarkable. The netsuke was made in two pieces, and 
sometime after 1913, when it was sold from the collection 
of the London collector W. L. Behrens, they were separated. 
Richard Silverman discovered the head in Toledo in 1974 
and six years later found the helmet in Los Angeles — 
a chance in a million for the rwo pieces to be re-united! 


35 Kagamibuta with figure in a boat 

Mid 19th century 

Stoneware; d. 1 '/, in. {.^.l cm) 
[nsci ibed: Kami \ ama I name oi kiln) 
Gift of Richard R. Silverman; 1991.89 

This kagamibuta netsuke is rare for several reasons. Fragile 
ceramic netsuke and inro have not often survived to the 
present. Kameyama was a very small kiln in Nagasaki with 
a limited output, which makes this netsuke rare indeed. 
Finally, the subject matter is most unusual for a netsuke, 
and is inspired by Chinese landscape painting, with a man 
in a boat floating under pine branches. 

K 36 Box of shells 

19th century 
/ Ebony and mother-of-pearl; h. 1 Vu, in. (3.0 cm) 

Signed: Tomokazu 
Gift of W. P. Baker, 1922; 1926.1 13 

The artist Tomokazu specialized in carving wood of all 
types. He worked in several cities during his long career, 
including Nagoya, Kyoto, and Edo. While animals were 
his favorite subjects, he created this netsuke as an intricate 
box overflowing with shells. He used mother-of-pearl to 
resemble incrustation on the dark ebony shells. This is 
the first netsuke owned by the Toledo Museum of Art 
and was donated in 1922 by Mr. W. P. Baker of Brooklyn, 
New York. 


37 Manju with pine hark and leaves 

19th century 

Wood, lacquer, mother-of-pearl, and ivory; d. 1 7, in. (4.4 cm) 


Gift o! II. A. Fee; 1948.124 

I his netsuke is an example ol the two-piece manju type, 
formed by two halves put together. When closed, they 
disguise the mount through which the silk suspension cord 
is threaded. The hark of a pine tree is carved out of one side 
of this netsuke, with the pine needles applied in black and 
red lacquer. Three falling leaves are superimposed over the 
tree trunk: two mother-of-pearl leaves and one ivory leal 
that has been stained green. 

38 Kagamibuta with grasshopper 

19th century 

Ivory with gold foil and bronze; d. 1 '/a in. (4.1 cm) 


Gift of H. A. Fee; 1948.157 

The subject depicted is that of a series of clouds, designed 
after Chinese models, surrounding the heavy gold foil lid 
which has a black bronze grasshopper who seems to float in 
the midst of embossed pine needles. This elegant netsuke 
might have been the perfect accessory for a wealthy man's 
autumn wardrobe. 


39 Ryusa aetsuke 

L9th century 

Walrus cusk; d. 1 l /j in. (3.8 cm) 


Gift of H. A. Fee; 1950.91 

The odd assortment of things carved on this netsuke — 
including a bat, a wave, a fan, a yak tail, a scroll, and a 
mushroom — symbolizes longevity, wisdom, and happiness 
for the man who wore it. The finest netsuke carvers were 
commissioned for works such as this one, but as the 
demand for netsuke reached its peak in the nineteenth 
century, many were mass produced by lesser artisans to 
satisfy the market. 

40 Porcelain gourd 

19th century 

Ceramic with colored glazes; h. 2 '/k, in. (5-2 cm) 

Unsigned: Hirado kiln? 

Gift of H. A. Fee; 1950.114 

Ceramic netsuke are uncommon because of their fragility 
and are highly desired by collectors. Gourds were some- 
times used as sagemono, the containers held in place by 
netsuke, to hold powdered medicines or perfume. This 
porcelain gourd, which is the color of an eggplant, has a 
rare image of a lizard crawling across its surface, bugs being 
much more typical. Gourds and eggplants are both symbols 
of fertility. 


41 Hako with mushrooms and maple leaves 

19th century 

Lacquer; w. 1 '/, in. (3.2 cm) 


Gift of H. A. lee; 1950.1 1 1 

This black lacquer hako, or box-shaped netsuke, is embel- 
lished with designs of maple leaves and mushrooms, both 
suggesting the autumn season. Mushrooms are emblems of 
fertility and long life, and the beauty of maple leaves was so 
appreciated that maple leaf viewing parties in the fall season 
were very popular during the hdo Period. 

42 Manju with chrysanthemum blossom 

Edo Period (1615-1868) 

Lacquer and gold; d. 1 "/h. in. (4.3 cm) 


Gift of H. A. Fee; 1950.97 

Chrysanthemums have been grown and admired in Japan 
and China for thousands of years. The first recorded 
Japanese chrysanthemum-viewing party was held on the 
ninth day of the ninth month in the year 685 and was 
attended by the emperor. It was held as a way to stay 
healthy, as the flowers were thought to have healing 
properties. Since the flowers bloom in the fall when most of 
the rest of the plant world is dying, the chrysanthemum is a 
symbol of longevity. This netsuke is made of gold lacquer; 
that is, gold dust was saturated in the clear lacquer, creating 
a spectacular effect. The design is further enhanced by small 
cut pieces of gold applied to the netsuke and then lacquered 
over to create a smooth surface. 


-4 3 Manju with reishi 

Mid 19th century 

lvorv and stag antler; d. 1 5 /s in. (4.1 cm) 

Signed: Kokusai 

Gift of H. A. Fee; 1948.118 

Kokusai is the most well-known carver who worked in the 
Asakusa School, which was located in an artistic quarter 
or Edo during the middle of the nineteenth century. His 
unique netsuke are often unconventional, and he was a 
specialist in the use of ivory and antler. This manju, or 
round netsuke, shows two reishi fungi, a kind of tree 
mushroom, in the center. A most unusual, elegant staining 
treatment is applied to the bowl. 

44 Mask of an old man 

Edo Period (1615-1868) 

Stag antler with inlaid brass eyes; h. 1 7s in. (4.8 cm) 


Gift of H. A. Fee; 1948.153 

The Noh form of theater developed in the fourteenth 
century from two earlier types, Gigaku and Bugaku, both 
Buddhist religious dances. Masks were used in all forms of 
these theatrical morality plays. In the Edo Period, netsuke 
masks became quite popular and reproduced the stock 
characters of Noh theater. This is an excellent example of a 
Jo (meaning old man) mask, a general term used to describe 
all old men characters in a Noh play. More specifically, the 
mask could be that of Shiwajo, a frowning old man with a 
short beard under his chin. The carver used brass nails for 
the eyes of the netsuke — full-size Noh masks usually had 
holes for the actor's eyes. 

45 Mask of Okame 

Late 1 9th century 

Ivory; h. 1 '7i„ in. (4.0 cm) 

Signed: (iyoku/.an 

Gift of H. A. Fee; 1948.152 

C iyoku/.an was an artist who worked in both and 
Kyoto and is known to have created several masks of the 
Shinto goddess of laughter, Okame. She was an important 
character in Noh drama, and legend has it that her comical 
dance coaxed Amaterasu, the sun goddess, out of her cave, 
bringing light to the world. Her puffy cheeks, black hair, 
and red lips make Okame easily recognizable, and she is a 
favorite subject of nctsuke carvers. 

46 Masked child beating a drum 

19th century 

Wood and ivory; h. 1 '/, in. (3.2 cm) 

Signed: Jusrvoku 

Bequest of Noah H. Swayne, 1922; 1927.123 

New Year's festivals in Japan always include shishimai, 
or lion dances, which began as part of Gigaku Buddhist 
religious dances and then were danced in the Noh drama. 
This wonderful netsuke shows a child beating a drum 
with a shishi mask over his head. His happy face can be 
seen peering out from the jaws of the lion. 



47 Hako with Chinese servant 

19th century 

Lacquer; h. 1 7w, in. (3.6 cm) 


Gift ot'H. A. Fee; 1948.137 

This lacquered wood hako, or box-shaped netsuke, is 
unusual because it was also inlaid with iridescent shell and 
gold foil. It depicts a happy Chinese boy, usually referred 
to by the Japanese as Karako, who is busily carrying scrolls 
and a wine bottle. 

48 Chinese archer 

Early 19th century 

Ivory; h. 2 "/u, in. (6.8 cm) 


Gift of H. A. Fee; 1948.150 

The cloud-patterned clothes, hat, and facial features 
identify this figure as Chinese. His bow is slung over one 
shoulder, and the quiver with arrows is strapped to his 
back. What appears to be a round shield in one hand is 
actually his outlandish hat. The Japanese were practically 
cut oft ftom the rest of the world from the middle of the 
seventeenth to the middle of the nineteenth centuries, but 
they had a keen interest in portraying foreigners. 


49 Serving spoons with netsuke attached as handles 

1 8th- 1 9th century 

Ivor)' and silver; h. 9 5 /a in. (24.4 cm) and h. 9 7i6 in. (23.9 cm) 


Gift of Richard R. Silverman; 1988.47 and 1988.48 

This pair of spoons uses netsuke in a unique way by 
attaching them as handles. The netsuke, which depict a 
Chinese man carrying a child and a Dutchman holding a 
rooster, were carved in Japan in the eighteenth century. 
The spoons were made in London in 1897 or 1898 hy the 
well-known silversmiths Slater, Slater, and Holland. Japan 
had such limited contact with the outside world from the 
seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries that foreigners were 
fascinating subjects for Japanese carvers. Images of these 
strangers were based on hearsay and imagination. There 
is one other set of such objects owned by a European 
museum according to the donor. 

50 Foreigner 

Mid 19th century 

Ivory; h. 1 7u, in. (3. 6 cm.) 

Signed: Kosen 

Gift of H. A. Fee; 1948.159 

This delightful katabori netsuke by Kosen from Osaka 
shows a foreigner cleaning a large jar. One expert has 
identified him as the Portuguese merchant Fernandes 
Mendes Pinto. The Portuguese, who began coming to 
Japan in the sixteenth century, were among the first 
western Europeans to trade with Japan. The long 
inscription on the jar translates as "Brought to the land 
of the rising sun [i.e., Japan] in the fifth month of the 
first year of Tembun [i.e., 1532]." 


Selected Dibl 



Detail cat. no. 15. 

de Bary, W.T. The Buddhist Tradition. New York: Random House, 1969. 

Bushell, Raymond. The Netsuke Handbook of Veda Reikichi. Rutland: 
Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1964. 

Bushell, Raymond. Co/lector's Netsuke. New York: Walker/Weatherhill, 1971. 

Davey, Neil K. Netsuke. London: Faber &Faber Ltd., 1974. 

Davies, Barry. Netsuke Classics. London: Rustin Clark, 1990. 

Ducros, Alain. Netsuke and Sagemono. Lyon: Alain Ducros, 1987. 

Earle, Joe. An Introduction to Netsuke. London: Compton Press, 1980. 

Edwards, Lisa A., and Margie M. Krebs. Netsuke. Salem: Peabody 
Museum of Salem, 1980. 

Gorham, Hazel. Japanese Netsuke. Yokohama: Yamagata Printing 
Company, 1957. 

Guth, Christine. Art of Edo japan. London: Calmann and King, 1996. 

Joly, Henri L. Legends in Japanese Art. New York: John Lane Company, 1908. 

Lazarnick, George. Netsuke and Inro Artists and How to Read Their 
Signatures. Honolulu: Reed Publishers. 1981. 

Masatoshi. The Art of Netsuke Carving. Tokyo: Kodansha International 
Ltd., 1981. 

Mason, Penelope. History of Japanese Art. New York: Abrams, 1993. 

Meinertzhagen, Frederick. The Art of the Netsuke Carver. Hollywood: 
Kurstin-Schneider, 1975. 

Okada.Yuzuru. Netsuke — A Miniature Art of Japan. Tokyo: Japan Travel 
Bureau, 1953. 

Paine, Robert Treat and Alexander Soper. The Art and Architecture of 
japan. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1975. 

Piggott, Julie. Japanese Mythology. New York: Peter Bedrick Books, 1984. 

Reyerson, Egerton. The Netsuke of japan. New York: A.S. Barnes and Co., 1 971 . 

Sandfield, Norman. The Ultimate Netsuke Bibliography. Chicago: Art 
Media Resources, 1999. 

Silverman, Richard. "The Toledo Museum's Netsuke Collection." Netsuke 
Kenkyukai Summer (1985) 13 -19. 

Stanley-Baker, Joan. Japanese Art. London: Thames and Hudson, 1984. 

Symmes, Jr., Edwin. Netsuke, Japanese Life and Legend in Miniature. 
Rutland: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1996. 

Welch, Matthew and Sharon Chappell. Netsuke, The Japanese Art of Miniature 
Carving. Minneapolis: The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 1999. 


Concordance by /\c 





At the Toledo Museum ot Art the accession numbers can he decoded as follows: the lour dibits to the left of the period 
represent the year in which the object was accessioned. The digits following the period indicate the sequence of accession 
with the year. E.g., 1 950.88 indicates the eighty-eighth work accessioned in 1950. Numbers in the right column refer to 
catalogue numbers, except lor " I '" numbers which refer to the netsuke types described and illustrated on pp, 14 and 15. 





1927.1 17 






1928. 1 si 


1928.1 SS 


1948.1 17 










1 948.1. V? 








1948.1 so 




1948. 153 















































1 1 








































. un.ucrasu. 

Ashinaga. 3- 

Baker, W. P., 5. 38 

Bashiko, 27 

Behrens, W. L, 7 

Benten, 1 5 

Bodhidharma. 25 

Bay's Day Festival, 31, 36 

Buddha. 22 

Buddhism. 10,21, 25, 31 

Bugaku. 15.27,42 

carp. 22. 36 

Chinnan, 27 

Choju Giga, 24 

Chokosai, 33 

chonin, 8,9. 10 

chrysanthemum, 14,41 

Confucianism, 8, 31 

coral. 1 " T . 30 

crane. 21, 36 

Daikoku, 25 

daimyo, 8, 9, 17 

Daruma, 25, 35 

Doraku, 32 

dragon, 23, 30, 32 

Dutch traders, 9, 45 

Edo, 7, 8. 9. 10, 15, 17, 24, 25, 38, 42, 43 

eggplant, 40 

Emma-O, Buddhist King of Hell, 21 

engraving, 19 

eta, 8, 10 

Fee. H. A., 5 

Fukurokuju, 21 

(jama Sennin, 23, 26 

geisha. 9 

Genryosai, 30 

Gigaku, 15,42,43 

glass, 17,32 

gourd, 13, 40 

Gyoku. 2} 

Guokuju, 31 

Gyokuzan, 43 

hako, 15,41,44 

Heian Period, 37 

himotoshi, 14, 15 

Hirado kilns, 17,40 

Hoshu, 24 

Hotei, 24,25 

inlays, 19,37,44 

inro, 5,7,11, 13, 14,32 

inuhariko, 35, 36 

Jo mask, 42 

Jugyoku, 43 

Kabuki, 10, 14 

Kagamibuta, 14, 19, 27, 34, 38, 39 

Kagetoshi, 1 5 

Kajikawa, 33 

Kameyama, 38 

Kappa, 28 

Karako, 44 

Katabori, 14, 15 

kimono, 7, 9, 13, 24, 26 

Kinko, 22 

Kintaro, 27 

kirin, 31 

Koku (Kokusai), 4, 19,28,42 

Kosen, 45 

kosode, 7 

Kyoto, 7, 8, 9, 17, 18, 24, 34, 38, 43 

Kyushu, 17 

lacquer, 17, 19, 29, 35, 36, 39, 41, 44 

lion, 29,43 

manga, 24 

manju, 14, 16,23,35,36,39,41,42 

Masaka, 23 

Masakazu, 21 

Masanao of Kyoto, 18, 24, 25, 34 

Masatami, 28 

Masatsugu, 37 

Mask, 15,42,43 

monkey, 26, 29, 35 

Morimashi Taki, Baron, 37 

Mt. Fuji, 34 

musical instruments, 33 

Nagasaki, 10,38 

netsuke-shi, 17, 19,24,25 

Noh, 42, 43 

ojimc. 5, 7, 11, 13 

Okame, 43 

Oni, 15 

peach. 26, 29 

Perrv, Commodore, 1 1 

pleasure quarters, 9, 10 

porcelain, 17, 40 

rabbit, 24 

Raiden, 28, 46 

Ryu Sennin, 23 

Ryusa, 14,20,28,40 

sagemono, 7, 13, 37, 40 

Sambiki-saru, 26 

samurai, 8 

sankin kotai, 9 

Sanzu-no-Kawa, 21 

Sashi, 1 5 

Seiobo, 26 

Sennin, 14, 22,23,26 

Seven Gods of Good Fortune, 21, 24, 25 

Shinto, 21,28,35, 36, 43 

shishi, 29, 43 

shishimai, 43 

Shiwajo, 42 

Shogetsu, 31 

shogun, 7, 8, 17 

shoji, 34 

Shoki, 15 

Silverman, Richard R., 2, 4, 5, 37, 38, 45 

SokenKisho, 17, 18 

suigaraake, ?>2 

Swayne, Noah H., 5 

Taoism, 21, 22, 31 

tatebina, 15 

techniques, 19 

Tenaga, 32 

Tengu, 27 

thunder god, 28 

tiger, 30 

Tokugawa, 7, 8 

Tokugawa Ieyasu, 7, 8 

Tomokazu. 38 

toy dogs, 35, 36 

trick, 15,22 

tsuzumi, 33 

ukiyo-e, 10 

yamabushi, 22 

Zen Buddhism, 25 

Zodiac, 24, 29, 30. 33